Fierce Broadband Wireless – A consortium of higher education associations, public interest groups and high-tech companies today announced a partnership named AIR.U (Advanced Internet Regions) to deploy Super Wi-Fi networks to upgrade the broadband available to underserved campuses and their surrounding communities. By using unlicensed access to unused television channels (TV band “white spaces”), universities and neighboring communities will be able to significantly expand the coverage and capacity of high-speed wireless connectivity both on and off campus.
The consortium’s initial goal is to plan and deploy several pilot networks in diverse university communities and create a roadmap for the rapid deployment of sustainable, next generation wireless networks as White Space equipment becomes widely available in 2013.
The AIR.U consortium expects one or more pilot networks will be operational by the first quarter of 2013.
White-space is technical slang for television channels that were left vacant in one city so as not to interfere with TV stations broadcasting on adjacent channels in a neighboring city. In the early days of television, America’s broadcasting authorities reserved 50 or so channels for TV stations. But because of worries about interference, no metropolitan area has ever come close to using all 50 channels at its disposal. In rural areas, vacant channels (ie, white-space) have frequently amounted to 70% or more of the total bandwidth available for television broadcasting.
The attraction of white-space is that the frequencies used for television broadcasting (54MHz to 806MHz) were chosen in the first place for the distance they could travel and their ability to penetrate obstacles. They were also good at transmitting information quickly. Where Wi-Fi can shuttle data at 160-300 megabits per second, white-space can do so at 400-800 megabits per second.
In America the best frequencies for doing all this—the 700MHz band covering channels 52 to 69 on the old television dial—were auctioned off in 2008 to mobile-phone companies. Between them, Verizon, AT&T and others paid close to $20 billion for this “beachfront property” of the wireless spectrum. The white-space freed below 700MHz is to be made available for unlicensed use by the public.